The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
STARRING Jack of all Trades Babongile Sikhonjwa, the Thulani Mbambo directed play Behind Closed Doors is not for the faint hearted.
The average theatre lover would probably be shocked at the sight of Babongile Sikhonjwa, featuring as a serial cheater having problems with his wife in the play, comparing his manhood to his wife’s sex toy.
However, this is not even the most attention grabbing part of the play. That is perhaps reserved for the sight voluptuous actress Farai Magada skipping through the stage, dressed in nothing but a see through night dress and underwear, to “jump into bed” with Sikhonjwa.
It’s a scene that sent tongues wagging on Thursday evening when the play returned for its second run at the Bulawayo Theatre. Sex toys, explicit kisses and sexual intercourse simulation are a rare sight in Zimbabwean theatre and this might perhaps explain the excellent crowd that came to watch the play for a second time.
The play is turning heads and for creator and director Mbambo, the controversy it might have brought has all been worth it.
“I have done plays that tackle social issues in a straightforward manner but there is a gap that’s not being exploited. The divorce rate is very high and theatre being a mirror of society should reflect that reality. Research has shown that the problem comes back to the bedroom and as theatre practitioners if we need to take the controversial route to reflect this then so be it. What we did was just take the light and shine it on a young couple’s bedroom. We did not add or subtract anything. We just took everything as it was,” he said in an interview with Sunday Life.
While the play was sexually explicit, Mbambo said that what they had been doing was within boundaries they felt were reasonable.
“We need to be true to ourselves. We need to break barriers. This silence is just killing our society. We need to take the bull by the horns and attack the issue. Of course it shouldn’t be pornography but we must reflect reality as much as it can. We want people that are watching to feel that this is something that can be believable and applicable in their own lives. Of course there are lines that we know we can’t cross in TV and theatre but we should be truthful,” he said.
Mbambo’s strategy to shock and awe seems to be bearing fruit, with the play now set to make its debut in the capital.
“The purpose of the play is to stimulate dialogue and that is what is happening. People are talking about it and we’re happy with the way things have gone. Things have panned out just like we wanted them to and the plays has reached places that we wanted it to reach. Already it has been booked at Theatre in the Park in Harare. That’s our next stop. After that we will see where it goes. The demand has spiked because of the issues it tackles,” he said.
While Babongile Sikhonjwa is the undoubted star of the production, the loudest screams and whistles on the night were perhaps reserved for actress Magada whose fearless exhibition of flesh seemed to win hearts on the night. For the actress, taking the role was not easy as she first had to get the consent of her loved ones.
“It is challenging. When I first read the script I didn’t know what to do. They said this is what you’re going to wear and I asked who am I kissing? I was single at the time so I didn’t care. I told my mother about it and everyone in my family supported me.
“Having to do the action now was the hardest part. Dressing up and kissing was certainly not easy. The nerves were too much. Whenever I’m on stage I imagine that there’s no one there. So even if people shout and speak I don’t even hear it,” she said.
Magada said if the conditions were right she would take a similar role again.
“In the future I don’t see myself doing the same thing over and over again. Of course there will be roles that will be for me for the semi-nudity, the grinding and kissing. I wouldn’t say no the kissing, I wouldn’t say no to the semi nudity but what’s important is how much I’m going to be paid for it, who is the director and where is he going to take me career wise,” she said.
Having acquired a reputation for playful mischief over the years, it was perhaps not surprising that Sikhonjwa would find such a provocative role dumped in his lap. Taking to the stage for the first time since 1992, he said that it might be the restart of a career he had long let go of.
“Someone said that this is the start of my theatre career. I suppose I become a factor in terms of the commercial value because someone was also telling me that this was not the usual theatre audience that they’re used to. They’ve been a couple of people that have suggested that they would want me on their plays but I will see in terms of the scripts if I want to and if I can fit it in my schedule,” he said.
Nomvuyiso Mpofu, who plays Sikhonjwa’s wife in the play, said that they had managed to pull it off because of their mutual respect between cast members.
“If you respect your job there’s no way that feelings will get involved. Once you don’t respect it then everything becomes a mess. I respect my job and I respect the people that I work with because we’re all from different backgrounds. Once we don’t respect each other then we can’t work. My motto is that you should not take work home,” she said.